Jimmy Reid: when will we see your like again?

Much has been written and spoken in the past wee while about Jimmy Reid, whose funeral took place yesterday and whose life was celebrated by the great, the good and the ordinary. Reading the many eloquent tributes, and in particular Joan McAlpine’s Go Lassie Go this morning, prompted me to set down some of my own thoughts about Jimmy Reid and his legacy.

It was as a teenager during Jimmy’s heyday, when the UCS work-in was being hotly debated in my own household (being the product of a Communist leaning mother and a Scottish Conservative father was never boring), that I got to know about Jimmy Reid, working class hero and rebel with just cause (according to my mother, anyway). His passion and skilful oratory never failed to impress and, depending on your political perspective, it was either rousing or downright terrifying.

Back then, I was beginning to question the benefits of schooling when young people seemed merely to be drones in an exam factory, where learning consisted of remembering facts to regurgitate in return for bits of paper at the end of the year. Having got enough bits of paper in my fifth year to land me an unconditional place at my first choice university, I decided there was more to life and that rules were for breaking, so I stopped turning up for morning assembly, or for some mornings at all, and uniform rules went out the window. Others did the same, and when the teachers pulled us up about our teenage rebellion, half a dozen militants decided we would just leave as there was little to be gained from staying. The horrified teachers backed down (what would people think of such a walk out?) and offered concessions, which meant we stayed and all added to our bits of paper (in my own case, a Higher Maths, the acquisition of which has always amazed me, and some Sixth Year Studies certificates which rendered my first year at university pointless).

Which brings me back to Jimmy Reid, confirmed autodidact, who knew the true meaning of education and pursued it vigorously rather than blindly accepting what was handed out to him. His intrinsic motivation and thirst for knowledge would undoubtedly have met with the approval of George Bernard Shaw who famously remarked: “What we want to see is the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.”

At Reid’s funeral yesterday, Sir Alex Ferguson, who had attended the same school, spoke of the gap in knowledge that separated the two men. By the age of 14, Reid was spending all his free time in the local library consuming everything from Burns, Scott, Dickens and McDiarmid to Tom Johnstone’s A History of the Working Classes in Scotland. Sir Alex just went to school.

Joan McAlpine writes:

My favourite moment came from the trade unionist Jimmy Cloughley who remembered Reid being approached by a “rather pompous academic” at Glasgow University after he had given his rectorial address. “Which University did you go to?” said the old Don. “Govan Library,” Jimmy replied.

So Jimmy Reid was ‘home educated’, too. For that is how it works, no matter how humble your roots.  Give a young person the resources and some encouragement – access to the library, the internet, the exposure to others of all ages, abilities, backgrounds and interests – and just watch them fly.  But be warned, for rather than simply answering the set questions, they will also question the set answers  – and more than likely become a thorn in the side of the Establishment.

RIP Jimmy Reid, when will we see your like again?


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